I suppose if you’ve grown up in Los Angeles or New York, you’re quite used to seeing your neck of the woods depicted in film and television. This probably extends to the people of any major American city, Chicago, Seattle and so on. Perhaps you’ve even laughed at shoddy stand ins, like a street in Toronto having some trash thrown at it to look like New York. Living now in Vancouver I’m aware of the city attempting to be just about anywhere on the continental United States and even, in the case of Battlestar Galactica, outer space.
If you’ve grown up in Northern Ireland, it’s less likely that you’ve had the privilege of seeing anywhere familiar turn up as the setting in a film. Occasionally they threw us a ball in the 90s when they wanted to do something about terrorism, and make some rubbish like The Devil’s Own with Brad Pitt. I love the hilarious near-Matrix double fisted Uzi attack near the start of that film set in Belfast. But generally there was never too many moments when I was sat watching something like Speed and it was all set in Belfast or a moment in Stargate where a character said ‘I’ve just realised, we’ve all got to get to Northern Ireland, right now!’
But this is exactly, much to my surprise, what happens in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Toward the end of the film, a trail of magical evidence leads a German-accented ectoplasmic middle-manager in a diving suit to tell our heroes that all signs point to “County Antrim, Northern Ireland”. There they meet a disabled goblin who somewhat looks like a man I once saw sitting outside the Empire bar. And he does speak with a Northern Ireland accent! And he is a rather poor actor, just like a lot of them in Northern Ireland!
Now, they do mention the Giant’s Causeway and then never show it (unless I missed it, that seemed like a real wasted opportunity, especially given they do have a giant rockman in the film) and they are the most artificially green hills and blue skies of Antrim I’ve ever seen in my life. And it was therefore probably all shot on a green screen in Hollywood and mashed together with computers. But I must admit to having got a kick out of this rare and unexpected change in setting.
Perhaps the feeling isn’t akin to Americans who are so used to seeing their cities reproduced in big budget films. Maybe it’s closer to those people who’s country once served as a setting in a Bond film. People in places like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan or Montenegro, who get a few establishing shots in a blockbuster and then an extended action sequence that supposedly takes place in the same location, but was really shot on a soundstage in Pinewood Studios.
Well whatever it’s like, I really enjoyed the hearty laugh I got when this element was introduced, and especially so the second time when the location and time was written up on the screen Michael Bay style, so Mr. Del Toro, thank you for that.